Develop a trusting and aligned co-founders’ relationship
You started this journey together, building your startup as co-founders. You share the thrills, excitement, hardships and struggles through the birth and growth of your creation.
The relationship between you probably one of the most intense, important, and close relationships you have. You need each other for support through the extreme emotional ups and downs, and through the business successes, set-backs, or failures.
As a couple therapist and group analyst, I work with co-founders to:
Professor Noam Wasserman wrote in The Founder’s Dilemma that 65% of high-potential startups fail due to unresolved tensions and conflicts among co-founders’. Founders that don’t invest in their relationship and alignment, are likely to negatively impact the quality of the vision and strategy of the company, create confusion and inconsistency on product directions and GTM focuses, and generate lack of alignment on priorities.
My research: Dysfunctional Co-founders’ relationships is based on in-depth interviews with more than 400 startup founders at different stages of the startup life cycle and across various verticals and industries. Following the interviews, I continued to deepen and enhance the findings through my on-going work as a co-founder therapist, working with founders in my clinic.
This work has provided a holistic understanding of the visible structural reasons for conflicts, as well as a window into the underlying psychological drivers causing the conflicts. By examining both the visible and the underlying factors that contribute to co-founder conflicts, my work has identified seven areas which I focus on in my counseling interventions.
1. Select co-founders based on both their relational competencies and professional expertise.
2. Incorporate psychological contract elements in the founders’ agreement.
3. Define clear roles and responsibilities and ownership structure
4. Decide how to decide: Establish effective and fast decision-making process, especially for handling disagreements.
5. Learn how to manage good conflicts: Shifting from a competitive debate to a collaborative dialogue.
Establish a weekly meeting to intentionally focus on developing a healthy co-founder relationship and alignment.
6. Embrace your differences and turn them into complementary qualities rather than sources of conflicts.
7. Develop awareness of personal biases, triggers, and emotional reactions that may impact the partnership.
8. Work with a shared co founders’ psychologist to enhance open and trustworthy communication.
Keep in mind that 65% of start-up failures are due to unresolved conflicts and tension.
1. Pay attention to what’s working. Keep a daily list of all the positive things your co-founder does. Elevate what they’re getting right, instead of focusing on what’s annoying you.
2. Don’t pile on every complaint or start talking the last three years of everything you’re been through. Fix one issue at a time.
3. Avoid character assassination. Think about temporary and circumstantial explanations for your co-founder’s behaviors as you do for your own, as often as you can.
4. Figure out if you fight, flee or freeze. If you build a bigger wall, your co-founder may bring out a bigger fight to knock you down. Understand your respective conflict management styles.
5. Stop talking in categorically. We often confuse our experiences and feelings with facts. Statements such as “you always” or “you never” should be stripped out of your vocabulary.
6. Start the 10-seconds shot clock. Research shows that people don’t listen to more than 10 seconds of someone’s arguments before they start building their rebuttal. So keep it short.